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10 Tips for Effective E-Learning


 Some of you will now that my current work has been involved in running synchronous elearning courses using Elluminate. This blog post is largely a reflection on that work so far and also my own experience of using Elluminate as an elearning tool.

I am attempting to draw up pointers or tips for users in how to deliver effective synchronous (live) elearning sessions for teaching and also for student revision. The tips presented here have been drawn from my observations of various people leading sessions and, as such, have been drawn upon different approaches or styles they’ve used. This post is very much a ‘first draft’ and I’d be grateful for any comments.

1) Teachers need a reliable internet connection with good bandwidth

Elluminate is intended to be used with even the poorest of dialup connections but this does not mean the experience will be equal to that delivered via a solid fast internet line. A poor connection can only acceptable, and sometimes unavoidable, at the client’s end. For the teacher a fast and reliable connection is essential to maintain delivery.

The lack of a reliable connection can lead to participants being dropped from the session and needing to reconnect. This may be unavoidable for students on a poor connection but it is not acceptable from a client viewpoint if the teacher drops out of a session through a poor internet connection.

2) Teachers need the support of well-designed resources

Many sessions have been supported by teacher designed PowerPoint slides. These are generally well based in the subject matter and pedagogy but usually show poor design and do not ‘engage’ students.

Teachers will rarely have the time or resources to design, from scratch, effective materials to engage the students, while also respecting commercial copyrights. In order to do this, it could be advantageous for a professional designer to be engaged to work with teachers to create engaging materials.

However, pretty resources on their own do not engage the students; they need to be appropriate and used in effective ways. Presenting a large number of colourful resources can be just as disengaging as presenting a few poorly designed ones.

3) The secret to a successful online course is interaction

The most effective sessions appear to be ones where there is a degree of interaction or participation from the students. This interaction can be with the teacher, with the resources or with each other. Sessions where the student appears to be just a passive participant tend to be less successful.

However, it can be difficult to generate interaction if the session has only one or two participants. In such cases, the level of participation and interaction can be adversely affected by the personality of each student and also their confidence/experience of using the system.

Equally, a session with a large number of students can be made more difficult to manage if there is a lot of interaction.

In my experience, if there are more than a dozen participants, it is difficult for each one to feel engaged. Consequently there is usually a lot of people dropping out during a session where there are more than a dozen participants. An ideal number would seem to be between 3 and 6 to allow for participation and interaction between students.

4) A successful course is usually a well-planned one

Isn’t this always the case? In a classroom, a successful lesson is usually one that has been well planned; the same appears to be true for online sessions. It is the session that is poorly planned and poorly supported by resources that appears to be the least successful.

However, of course, we all know that being flexible and being responsive to our students are also important to success. Following our plan rigidly during a lesson even when the students are not engaged, does not make for a successful lesson. In face-to-face sessions we can observe the students, their activity and responses. This is much more difficult online.

5) Intended outcomes need to be clear

Successful sessions almost always have intended outcomes; the most successful lessons are those where these outcomes are shared with students and have the agreement, or ‘buy in’, of the students.

In online sessions, it is useful for the teacher to tell the students what the intended outcomes for the session are, what activities are planned in order to achieve those outcomes and what ‘behaviour’ is required/expected from the student

6) Online learning is more than repeating previously learned material

Seems obvious really, but online sessions should not be just a repetition of subject matter previously covered in class. There may need to be some elements of revision but most successful online sessions allow students opportunities to investigate or explore materials in further depth or in new ways..

7) ‘Something for nothing’ is always good

We all like to think that we are getting ‘something for nothing’ no matter how big or how small. Sending students materials which they can use offline, is nearly always beneficial. Such materials might be sample questions, links to online activities, pdf texts etc.. There needs to be something extra that students gain from attending online sessions which could not be gained from face-to-face sessions.

8) Don’t allow time for questions!

I know this sounds almost counter intuitive but it is perhaps good practice not to allow time for questions. We all know the scenario where the teacher tells the pupils that at the end of the lesson there’ll be time for them to ask questions, that’s if there’s enough time of course! This usually gives the message to students that their questions are not really important and we can use them at the end to fill any remaining time, if the students can remember their question until the end and assuming they can withstand the peer pressure to stay quiet as everyone wants to finish early.

Rather than setting time aside for questions, taking and inviting questions should be an integral part of the session. Students should feel free to ask questions or raise points as the session progresses. This leads to better interaction and engagement in the session.

9) Use the tools

I am sometimes heard to be critical of Elluminate, as also with other services, in that they provide more tools for the teacher than for the learner. It is more frustrating, though, when teachers don’t make use of those tools available to them and resort to just basic text presentations on the whiteboard, which they then proceed to talk through. If you have ever suffered ‘death by PowerPoint’, I can assure you ‘death by Elluminate Whiteboard’ is worse. There are several tools available to the teacher, such as ‘application sharing’, ‘breakout rooms’, ‘web tour’ or multimedia sharing, get to know them and explore how each could be used in an online session.

10) Online teaching requires new skills

Online teaching requires new skills, not just in terms of handling technologies but also in terms of delivery. It is clear that a good classroom teacher does not necessarily make a good online teacher, so not every teacher will feel suited to it.

Delivering effective learning online requires practice, training and the development of a range of practical and interpersonal skills. An opportunity to teach online provides a professional teacher with an outlet to develop new skills and acquire new experiences which could hold them in good stead for the future.

This is not to say that a one-size fits all approach is required. Far from it, online learning can benefit from a range of teaching styles/approaches/resources just as face-to-face teaching does. It simply indicates that such styles/approaches/resources need to be different in many cases to fit an online scenario.

This final point is probably one which needs to be developed further. Having said that online teaching needs new skills, it is not yet easy to define those skills. Having said that online teaching may not suit all classroom teachers, there is an implication for ‘blended’ learning approaches. As I say, this post represents very much a ‘first draft’ and your comments are most welcome.

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